Ordinarily, a fever is nothing to be too concerned about. But when a fever occurs during childbirth, a condition known as intrapartum fever, the consequences for the infant can be potentially catastrophic.
Most medical professionals define intrapartum fever as a maternal body temperature of at least 100.4 degrees F that occurs during labor. While not an uncommon occurrence (most estimates place it between 1.6 and 14.6 percent of all births), it can be difficult to treat because the cause isn’t always apparent.
It’s often suspected that some sort of infection causes the majority of cases, usually assumed to be chorioamnionitis (an infection of the tissue surrounding a fetus while in the uterus). Many fevers, however, are not caused by infection at all. These cases have been linked to epidurals, first-time pregnancies, prolonged labor, the use of “prostaglandin” drugs during labor induction, dehydration, warm delivery rooms, and instances where a woman’s water breaks prematurely before labor has started.
While the cause of a fever ultimately determines the most effective treatment for a mother and her baby, the risks and potentially catastrophic outcomes for the infant are the same regardless of the underlying cause.
Low-grade fevers and those controlled quickly are unlikely to cause significant issues for an infant if a fever reaches 102.2°F or higher and remains elevated for a prolonged period (90 minutes or more). Still, temporary complications are likely, and permanent damage is possible.
In the short term, babies born during an intrapartum fever are seven times more likely to have a low Apgar score (a measurement of health taken shortly after birth), are more likely to need help breathing after birth, and are more likely to be admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for further monitoring and treatment.
In the long term, these babies are more than nine times more likely to develop cerebral palsy, four times more likely to suffer from hypoxic encephalopathy (a type of brain injury that results when the infant’s brain doesn’t get enough oxygen). Additionally, they are 3.4 times more likely to suffer from seizures shortly after birth. Mothers who develop a fever during labor are at an increased risk of requiring a C-section to deliver their baby, a procedure that carries its own set of risks.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to intrapartum fever treatment, there are some general guidelines that doctors should follow. Women in labor should have their temperature monitored, and it should be checked more frequently if an elevated temperature is detected. Antibiotics may be given if an infection is suspected, and acetaminophen may be given as a fever reducer. It may be helpful to lower the temperature of the room if it’s too warm or to give IV fluids to treat or prevent dehydration. When intrapartum fever is confirmed, it’s recommended to monitor the baby for any signs of distress, and it may be necessary to deliver the baby by C-section.
The birth of a child is supposed to be a happy occasion, but it can quickly turn tragic when complications during labor result in a baby’s catastrophic injury or death. Parents are often left to wonder whether something could have been done to save their children from the pain and suffering that they’ve endured. If it can be proven that a different doctor following currently recommended medical guidelines would have acted differently and achieved a better outcome, then you have a case of medical malpractice for your child’s birth injury.
At Ross Feller Casey, we’ve made it our mission to get justice for the people who need it most – injured victims and their families. We know that medical malpractice can be complex and challenging to prove, particularly when it results in birth injuries. But our expert team of lawyers and on-staff Ivy League-trained doctors know how to get results.
We have a nationally recognized track record of success in personal injury and medical malpractice cases, and we’re ready to put our experience to work for you. With over $3 billion in verdicts and settlements under our belts, we’re not afraid to take on the doctors, hospital systems, and insurance companies to get you the compensation you and your family deserve. There’s no charge unless you win, and consultations are always free, so contact us today.
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